- The Grand National
Richard Dunwoody's Grand National course guide
As one of only a handful of multiple winners, Richard Dunwoody knows what it takes to win the most prestigious National Hunt race on the calendar, the Aintree Grand National.
Dunwoody, who won the race on West Tip in 1986 and again on Minnehoma in 1994, gives ESPN.co.uk a jockey's-eye guide to riding this most challenging of courses.
"The parade can last a long time, sometimes as long as 25 minutes if a horse needs to be re-shod and horses can get very het-up during this tense period before the off. It's down to the riders to keep the horse as calm as possible and focus on the race itself.
"At the start, it's important to get a good break, ensure you don't get behind horses that might be dodgy jumpers and get a clear view of the first fence, usually approached at break-neck speed. It's important to get the horses 'back on their hocks', as we say, so they're able to jump the fence well. Over the years, there have been quite a few fallers at the first and the drop on the landing side obviously catches some horses out because it's often not something they're used to compared to some of the other fences they've seen.
"The third fence is a very big ditch with a big drop to the back of it and it takes some jumping. The fourth and fifth are also big fences but fairly straightforward. Bechers is next and I fell here on two occasions and my race was virtually ended another time when I had to pull up shortly afterwards. It's the hardest fence on the course for me. It's at a slight angle with a massive drop at the back, so you've got to get your horse well balanced as you're also jumping slightly to the left. You've also got a big crowd around which you almost feel like you're jumping straight into!
"Next is Foinavon, which despite being the smallest fence often forces horses into a bad mistake after the shock of Bechers. Canal turn is the eighth, which is a big fence with a 90 degree turn at the back of it. The difficulty here is that you have horses on the outside cutting across you which can hamper you and there are usually a few fallers here. Valentines is the ninth, which is a big fence with a big drop behind it. The tenth is fairly straightforward and then we have Big Ditch and one more before coming back towards the stands towards the twelfth fence before crossing the Melling Road.
"At this point, you're now settling into a rhythm, getting the horse well balanced and looking out for loose horses whilst being aware of bad jumpers. Next is the second last, which used to cause problems when it was re-laid a few years ago, then back onto the race course proper. The last doesn't usually cause any problems and usually rides quite well but fence 15 is The Chair, which is the narrowest on the course but also the biggest. Loose horses can obviously get in the way and you can get horses jumping across you slightly and there's not much light. It has a massive ditch in front of it and it's different from all the other fences because the ground at the back is built up so you land at a higher level than you take off from. I never had any problems with The Chair but there are often a lot of fallers there.
"Next, you jump the water at fence 16 which usually doesn't cause too many problems although my Grandfather fell there in the 20s. I always say he was one of the last to do so! Then you jump the first 14 fences again and Beachers is very tricky the second time round as horses start to tire after nigh on three miles. Canal Turn and the four fences back towards the stands is really where you start thinking about the race itself rather than simply surviving.
"Fortunately for me, I won the National twice - on West Tip in 1986 and again in 1994 on Minnehoma. West Tip was fantastic and made it all very easy for me even though he was only four. Having won the race in 86, he finished second and fourth twice after that when he ran right up to his best. He should have won really in 1985 but he fell at Beachers but we came back and won it the next year. Winning on Minnehoma was probably the greatest moment of my career as I didn't expect it at all because he was a small horse and I'd only ridden him in one race at Newberry before. I just didn't think he'd get round. Both my winners were very intelligent horses and they were both very clever jumpers. I suppose Minnehoma was a bit more of a character and they literally had to re-break him in every summer because he was a little bit wild, a bit like his owner Freddie Star!
"The main thing is for having a punt on the National is to look for trends in the betting such as seeing odds shortening, for example from 66-1 to 40-1. I would choose three or four horses and back them each way or a place but the main thing is to enjoy it and just have a bit of fun!"
Get Richard's tips on this year's Aintree Grand National at www.richarddunwoody.com.
Richard's latest book, 'Method in My Madness', is available to buy now from www.thomasbrightman.com.